A new study, The State of Sales 2017, suggests that sales professionals need to behave more like informed business consultants, using technology to gain valuable insights on prospects and their challenges to win in today’s competitive environment.

According to the survey of 1,000 UK sales professionals and over 1,000 UK business decision makers, conducted by CensusWide on behalf of LinkedIn, top performing salespeople are taking the time to understand a client’s business before making a pitch and winning over decision makers, who say that knowledge and insight of their business is the top reason they’d engage with a salesperson, even over the product or service they’re offering.

Top sales people are also favouring new technologies – from collaboration and CRM tools to sales intelligence and networking platforms – over the cold call.

With the majority (91%) of business decision makers saying they are open to trying new brands, products or services at work, opportunities are clearly there for the taking. The research highlighted three interesting trends for the sales profession:

1. Doing your homework sells

Buyers are resolute in what they want, preferring salespeople who understand their needs and provide tailored and timely offerings. A more informed approach is key for sales teams to seize those opportunities, with the research showing that decision makers are more likely to consider a brand if the salesperson has a clear understanding of their role in the decision-making process (89%); targets appropriate people for discussion (88%) and shares applicable content (88%).

In fact, 79% of buyers say that they wouldn’t bother engaging with a sales person if they didn’t do the necessary homework beforehand. And 62% wouldn’t engage if the approach wasn’t personalised.

2. Trust is number one

The professional network’s study found that for 43% of decision makers, trust was the most important factor when closing a deal. In comparison, 23% cited “return on investment” and 18% said “price”. And despite three quarters believing that sales professionals have an unfair image problem, 81% said they consider salespeople to be “trusted advisors to their business”.

In fact, they are most likely to describe sales professionals as “trustworthy” and “fair” – a far cry from how the media has historically depicted salespeople.

3. Evolution of sales technology

Nearly half (45%) of decision makers surveyed said they would respond to a cold call less than 10% of the time. Sales success is increasingly dependent on technology, with 94% of top sales professionals using tech to get deals over the line.

The research found that the use of social media was particularly popular with salespeople, with 86% saying that it helped them close a deal. The findings also indicated that the role of social media in sales is continuing to grow, with 74% of top-billing salespeople saying they expected to spend more time using social media this year. 50% of those surveyed expect their company to increase sales technology investments – compared to just 35% last year.

Liam Halpin, Head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions, EMEA, said: “Now that customers can get the information and products they need at the click of a button, sales professionals can no longer rely on the steak dinner and hard sell approach. They need to add value through their expertise, insights and knowledge of a client’s needs, otherwise they will struggle to get anywhere in today’s hyper competitive business landscape.

“Trust sits at the core of our mission to modernise the sales profession. Good relationships are built up over many years, but can fall apart in a matter of minutes. Investing time in sales technology to make an informed approach is a must for sales professionals to build and foster powerful, long-term relationships with customers.”

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